Tucker was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock on Tuesday, Jake Kaplan of The Athletic reports. Tucker had only an outside shot at a spot on the Opening Day roster. He'll wind up joining minor-league camp more than two weeks before the start of the season. The young outfielder doesn't have a lot left to prove in the minors, having hit .332/.400/.590 in 100 Triple-A games last season, so it may not be long before he's back in the big leagues.
Tucker went 0-for-2 on Sunday against the Nationals and is hitting .333 (5-for-15) with one extra base hit, three RBI and five strikeouts over five spring games. Tucker has been unable to repeat the power show he put on during spring training last year when he launched five home runs and drove in 21 runs, but he's still a well regarded prospect whose .990 OPS at Triple-A Fresno in 2018 indicates he's ready for his next challenge. A brief encounter with major-league pitching did not go well last season (72 plate appearances, .430 OPS), so that may still sit in the mind of manager AJ Hinch. The Astros could keep him down in the minors to get another year of service time out of him while Tony Kemp and Jake Marisnick handle the fourth and fifth outfielder jobs for the first two months of the season.
Tucker is expected to begin the 2019 campaign at Triple-A Round Rock after the Astros signed outfielder Michael Brantley to a two-year, $32 million contract Monday, Jake Kaplan of The Athletic Houston reports. Though he amassed 24 home runs and 20 stolen bases in just 100 games at Triple-A last season, Tucker fizzled across his three stints at the big-league level, hitting just .141 and reaching base at a .236 clip over 72 plate appearances. The small sample doesn't put much of a damper on Tucker's long-term outlook, but it may have partially factored into the Astros' decision to bring aboard an established outfield option in Brantley. While Brantley's addition creates a temporary roadblock for Tucker, it's more likely the veteran is a long-term threat to corner outfielder Josh Reddick, another lefty hitter like Tucker who struggled mightily in 2018. If Reddick fails to produce against right-handed pitching early on during the upcoming season, the Astros might not hesitate to pull the plug and give Tucker another spin in an everyday role, as the 21-year-old seemingly has little left to prove in the minors at this point.
Manager A.J. Hinch informed Tucker on Sunday that he wouldn't be included on the Astros' American League Division Series roster, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports. Tucker went 1-for-4 while manning right field Saturday in the second half of the Astros' doubleheader with Orioles, marking just the second start for the outfielder since he was promoted from Triple-A Fresno on Sept. 16. Though he remains one of the top hitting prospects, Tucker scuffled in his MLB debut, managing only nine hits in 62 at-bats. He never had much of a case for a spot on the postseason roster with Marwin Gonzalez, George Springer and Josh Reddick all assured spots in the outfield and reserves Jake Marisnick (defense), Tony Kemp (plate discipline) and Myles Straw (baserunning) all possessing singular skills that might prove more useful off the bench than Tucker's all-around package.
Tucker was named the Minor League Player of the Year for the Astros organization, Reid Laymance of the Houston Chronicle reports. It's the second straight year that Tucker's earned the award. He hit .332/.400/.590 with 24 home runs at Triple-A Fresno. His introduction to MLB this season wasn't as smooth, but he'll get a chance to earn a starting outfield spot next spring.